Books: A Marathon of Words

Local writers race to finish a book this month

Nov 20, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Stephen Carter-Novotni

(L-R) Bardi, Sherry Spurlock and Layla Aaron meet every week for write-ins at local coffeeshops as part of National Novel Writing Month, in which challenges participants to write a novel in a month.

The old phone book slogan "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking" begins to sum it up, except in this case it's running relentlessly (if recklessly) toward a Nov. 30 deadline.

NaNoWriMo, geek-speak for National Novel Writing Month, is the name of the race. In the tradition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which supposedly was completed in three weeks, would-be authors attempt to pound out 50,000 words — on average 1,667 every day — in one month.

Bardi, a Price Hill resident who claims he has no last name, says he's been involved in the national contest since 2002 and has completed six novels.

"I've never written anything to date without a happy ending," he says with a smirk. "Even the one about the bisexual sociopath."

Bardi admits that what he's done isn't all good writing. It doesn't have to be. To count, it just has to count.

There's no entry fee for NaNoWriMo, and anyone can do it.

(Follow the journey at There are no prizes except the self-satisfaction of having crossed the finish line and a digital image: a winner's icon for the author's Web site.

"This allows me to exercise my verbal diarrhea," Bardi says.

The only people they're competing against are themselves. More than 80,000 people from around the world did just that last year. Only about 13,000 completed the race. The Cincinnati area group is a small part of an international phenomenon.

"I'm probably going to be the lone self-proclaimed smut writer," says Layla Aaron, using a pen name to avoid the ire of her conservative employer.

Aaron says she's had one short story published, "but it's a sweet romance very unlike this." She's also the lone published fiction author in the group but shares the whimsy of her colleagues.

"The only thing I know about mine is the threesome ends up together," she says.

The jovial comradery is part of the write-in, a small meeting where writers are supposed to create a space and the peer pressure to crank on their works and meet their daily deadlines. It doesn't always happen that way.

Bardi explains that he's a professional at procrastination, while Sherry Spurlock, the local group's reluctant organizer, says that while she's been involved since the start "the first three years I crashed and burned badly. It's only in the last three years that I have managed to finish."

Spurlock, who lives in Norwood, is drafting another piece of "chick lit" to add to her collection. Her heroine is stuck in a coma and is exploring her life from the inside out.

Likewise, Spurlock is deep in the subculture of NaNoWriMo. A translucent green man sits on her keyboard to remind her of "plot ninjas." She's given each of the writers at the meeting a green man, but she's the only one who has her totem on hand.

Plot ninjas are chaotic, improbable plot twists used to drive a story forward when the author is out of ideas. Spurlock says these aren't to be confused with "plot bunnies," which are tangential plot lines that distract authors from the work of getting their book finished.

The insider dorky charm of it all is downright infectious.

These group members are folks with corporate day jobs and a second literary identity for the night or early morning. All admit to passing on sleep to keep up with the word counts. Spurlock says she's 10,000 words in the hole.

For all this, the contest is more personal exercise than anything else; few of these works will be read by more than a handful of people, if that. Surprisingly, group members don't read each other's work.

"There's only one I've written that I consider to be somewhat mediocre and I would consider letting someone read," Spurlock says.

Aaron is more positive, saying she intends to submit her work as a series to an erotic fiction publisher.

Spurlock says being published would be nice, but it's not her reason for writing.

"If that's your sole purpose, you lose the joy," she says.

Bardi disagrees, saying that while writing professionally can be a drain, "I'm also going to be the unpopular guy and say that sometimes we use that as an excuse. The idea is to create enough of a body of work to say it's finished and it can go out."

Whatever their goals, the deadline is their opposition as well as their friend.

"The actual deadline forces you to focus on the goal," Spurlock says. "A lot of people say, 'I know I've got a story in me. I'll finish it some day.' Well, some day is Nov. 30." ©